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More Teens Using OxyContin to Get Loaded

The prescription drug OxyContin is a powerful pain reliever. It's increasingly a popular choice among young people who want to get high. Doctors say when taken incorrectly, OxyContin is highly addict

More Teens Using OxyContin to Get Loaded

The prescription drug OxyContin is a powerful pain reliever. It's increasingly a popular choice among young people who want to get high.


Doctors say when taken incorrectly, OxyContin is highly addictive, and dangerous. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

The emergency room at La Mesa's Grossmont Hospital is the busiest in San Diego County.

ER doctor Marc Kobernick has seen his share of young people who've overdosed on OxyContin.

"It does kill, there's no question it kills", Dr. Kobernick says. "Every ER doctor in any urban center will tell you they've seen people with really bad reactions."

San Diego County officials say in the last year and a half, Oxycontin has been linked to 20 deaths among 18 to 25-year-olds.


OxyContin is an extended release medication intended for 'round-the-clock treatment of pain. It's often prescribed to cancer patients and people who've had severe injuries.

Dr. Michael Plopper is chief medical officer for Sharp Behavioral Health . He's seeing a growing number of teens who are addicted to the drug.

"We're finding that young people are grinding it up and snorting it, or smoking it, because they can bypass the sustained-release component and get an immediate effect from it," says Dr. Plopper. "The problem with it is, it's very potent, extremely dangerous, and the young people who are abusing it really aren't aware of the consequences."

Plopper says OxyContin is extremely addictive. People can become tolerant to it, and require greater and greater amounts to achieve the same effect.

So why are young people so attracted to it?

"It was just kind of a numbing, like you would feel just completely relaxed" says Adam. "It'd take away worries, it'd take away your anxiety, it took away all of your stress, basically, of school, of the daily routine."

Adam grew up in Poway. He started experimenting with OxyContin when he was 16.

At first, he would get it from friends whose parents had a prescription for the drug. Then Adam would go Tijuana to buy it.

By the time Adam was 18, he was hooked. At his peak, he was snorting three 80 milligram pills a day. That's a potentially fatal dose.

It all came crashing down when he was arrested for driving under the influence.

Adam was put in jail, and was forced to go cold turkey.

"Your body can't regulate its temperature", Adam says. "You go from hot to cold, cold to hot, you're nauseous, you feel sick, vomiting. It's just kind of a nasty cycle where you never feel good and kind of just eats at the center of your core."

Adam went to the residential treatment center Sharp Vista Pacifica when he got out jail.

Rick Rademacher is a therapist at the hospital. He says OxyContin is probably the hardest drug for people to kick.

"That whole ritual of smoking, or preparing, or shooting up, brings about a different level of addiction," Rademacher points out. "'Cause they're not only addicted to the drug, but they're addicted to the process. It seems to be something hard to let go of. There seems to be a really tight relationship with the drug. And as you know, we don't like to give up relationships very easily."

Eventually, Adam did give it up. He's been clean for 14 months.

To be sure, the number one drug of choice for young people remains alcohol. But Oxycontin is fast becoming the top prescription drug of abuse.

ER doctor Marc Kobernick says it's a bad situation that's getting worse.  

"I see it still increasing", says Dr. Kobernick. "I see there being more and more on the street, I see more kids using it, I see it becoming more popular. I see kids talking among themselves as to how they can use it, how they can get their hands on it, and I see things just getting worse for a while."

In the 2008 national survey Monitoring the Future , 4.7 percent of high school seniors said they get high on OxyContin.

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.